Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Empathy Gap in Domestic Violence

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I have been a victim of domestic abuse in more than one relationship during the past few years, undergoing not only physical violence, but also prolonged emotional abuse, financial control, alienation from friends and family, and more. There are few people today who would find themselves unable to empathize with me in such scenarios, and even fewer who could openly express their indifference toward my suffering without unforgiving public rebuke and shaming. The same cannot be said for male victims of domestic violence.

In the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, the percentages of male victims of domestic violence are roughly 40% [1:2], 50% [3], and 20%** [4], respectively. Even now, despite all of the activism, resources, and political attention directed toward women’s issues, victimized women may still struggle not only with recognizing the severity of their circumstances and escaping an abusive partner, but additionally with finding the help that they desperately need. Men, unfortunately, have it as bad if not worse in this regard.

Not only do men lack the same level of awareness for their issues, socially and politically, but they furthermore tend to have less social support and helpful resources than women, including shelters, which are a significant element of this. Similarly to women in certain cases, though, men may not perceive what they are experiencing as abuse, or they might simply not know how to escape their abuser. But unlike women due to differences in how they are perceived in society, they may also fear reporting due to stigma associated with male victimhood (being weak for allowing a woman to beat or control them, et cetera). At the same time, their abuse in the daily discourse over sex issues is regularly undercut or ignored, and reference to it is too frequently met with enmity, apathy, or contempt.

A public figure of any variety, but particularly a political figure, willing to state that my abuse did not or does not matter, or even the abuse of any other woman or women overall, would receive such a hostile response that it might very well snuff out their career and social life indefinitely. Yet there are still a number of individuals, occasionally fairly high-profile folk [5], who undermine, deny, mock, or react with great animosity toward any effort at initiating a dialogue over domestic violence perpetrated against men. (I have had the misfortune of encountering several in my time online.) But I am not asking for an apology on behalf of men from these kinds of people, or for anyone to lose their job as someone might lose their job for remarking that female victims of domestic violence are unimportant, because it is not my place to make such requests.

As I noted above, people like me, and women at large, are not the ones under attack in this respect. There exists a general concern in our culture for my health and safety, and acknowledgement of my worth as a human being. Though escaping abuse is always difficult, I at least have myriad places that I can turn to for assistance. As a woman, I am not the one who would be beaten by a violent partner only to have numerous individuals online and elsewhere supposedly fighting for human rights and fairness erase, degrade, and disparage me; belittle my bruises, joke about drinking my tears, shut down every discussion possible of my pain, act with intense anger at the mention of my victimhood. That fate is reserved for men, especially where domestic violence victimization is concerned, and without correcting this problem, we can never achieve any manner of genuine “equality” in our society.

I do not, however, wish to merely preach to the choir here. I do not want only my anti-feminist friends to read this, reinforce their perspectives, and repeat what they already think about men mattering to me in response. I would not disagree with them expressing concern for every victim no matter their sex, but they are not the target audience. I know that feminists follow me on nearly all, if not all, of my profiles. I converse with some of them, and others are my good friends. I am aware that they recognize that this piece is indirectly about people that they might know or even typically agree with, and I am aware that they could feel attacked by this post, but that is not the chief purpose.

If you are one of those types of individuals alluded to above, either someone that I call friend or the other sort that I identified as a part of the problem, my primary reason for writing this is not to attack you. I am attempting to lift the veil of gendered politics and appeal to any sense that you have of common humanity and justice—right and wrong, fair and unfair—whatever you prefer to call it. Even if I may disagree with you on several of your social theories and refuse to adopt the label of “feminist,” I am not asking you to upend your entire worldviews, I am not asking you to abandon all of your beliefs about patriarchal structures in society, and I am not asking you to forget about women. My plea in this piece is to your empathy and decency. I am asking you to take the simple step of expressing compassion for victims of violence who also happen to be male. If you already do, then this is not for you.

For those to whom such empathy does not come naturally or easily, I would like you to consider that suffering is not a competition, or at least need not and should not be. We must understand that this is a shared human struggle which can be best faced solely when we work together and care for everyone equally no matter how they were born. Women and men in abusive relationships most often can comprehend the pain and misery of living every day or every other day for weeks, months, or years under such conditions. I am sure that many would likely wish for others in comparable situations to be freed of their suffering and helped with moving past it just as they would desire to be now, or were in the past. It should not take beating empathy into us for more of us to have a little basic human compassion and recognize that all victims are worthy of consideration and assistance regardless of sex.

There is a sense of frustration that I feel over the probable futility of writing this post, but it is outweighed by the horror that creeps over me each time I imagine what it would be like to be beaten or live in an abusive home for an extended period only to face individuals who claim to be fighting for equality mocking me, disregarding my experiences, or trying to stifle all discussions of circumstances akin to mine. The very idea of it is sickening, and yet it occurs every day to men as acceptance of the practice in modern debates on gender problems increases.

Let us care about all human beings. Endeavor to listen and strive to understand. Allow folk to share their stories and work toward greater resources to help more victims of wrongful and cruel acts and maltreatment. Refusing to do so is not only counterproductive, but detrimental to advocacy for women and men alike, the discourse over sex issues as a whole, and social liaisons between women and men in general. We can do better than this.

Author: Krista Milburn [@Femitheist]
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NOTE: I have made a donation to Respect.uk.net, which assists male victims of domestic violence (and women). I would recommend donating to or supporting the ManKind Initiative or SAFE instead, as they appear to be superior organizations for helping male victims of domestic violence specifically. I was unable to contribute to them due to technical issues on this go (with the former not accepting American Express and the options for donations not working for me on the latter), but they are next on my list, and they each do terrific work. Please support them or any of the other organizations linked below if you can! They are the people doing the work to help victims today.

NOTE II: If you liked this piece, feel free to share it, and if you have any thoughts on it or the general subjects discussed within, or even purely semi-related topics, please leave them in the comments below. I always enjoy reading the feedback of others whether they liked and agreed with what I had to say or not.

NOTE III: If you think that you have better statistics than the ones that I used here, post them in the comments! The current data is, unfortunately, not as clear or reliable as some individuals appear to believe.
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References (Last Accessed on December 2, 2015):

[1] U.S. Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Data:
http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6308.pdf

[2] U.S. Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Data (HTML Version):
http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6308a1.htm?s_cid=ss6308a1_e

[3] UK Data:
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/116483/hosb0212.pdf

[4] Canada Data:
http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/150115/dq150115a-eng.pdf

[5] Domestic Violence Is Gender Blind, Unlike the Activists
http://blog.panampost.com/frank-worley-lopez/2015/11/30/domestic-violence-is-gender-blind-unlike-the-activists/
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Footnote
** It seems unlikely that the ratios of female to male victims of domestic abuse would vary that greatly between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada; the point being made here is that the numbers for males are higher than most people would surmise no matter how you measure it. Delving into many of these studies and statistics is a common reminder that the data itself is likely not as reliable as researchers would prefer it to be. Issues of underreporting, incomplete coding of data by authorities, variations between general methodologies, confusion and differences caused by discrepancies in terminology, and so forth, must always be remembered.

Special Footnote
Regarding the CDC data and similar subjects, I think that it is a bit misleading to conflate rape with all other forms of “violence,” which ends up including factors such as “stalking and psychological aggression,” the latter of which is nearly even when it comes to female and male victims in a few cases.

I know that some people are fixated on making these comparisons, but to the average reader, when an article states “sexual violence,” they are going to think “rape,” not “psychological aggression.” This might actually serve to hurt the cause of those who make such claims by bringing into question their veracity. The error is in making the comparison at all as a means to justify how harmful any crime is to the individual victim. All victims should be treated equally.

The folk who conduct this research, from what I gather, are attempting to convey the message that we should endeavor to move away from women vs. men, not in the sense of hiding the data, but in the sense of providing attention to and funding for all of these issues across the board. If we could reduce the causes of “psychological” aggression, for example, that might have positive impacts on more serious crimes such as rape. Win-win.
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Resources for Victims of Domestic Violence (Last Accessed on December 2, 2015):

[Unused Reference]: Intimate Partner Violence: Attributes of Victimization, 1993–2011
http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ipvav9311.pdf

- United States:

1) National Domestic Violence Hotline

Support Organizations Database

2) Mayo Clinic

Domestic Violence Against Men: Know the Signs

3) HelpGuide

HelpGuide.org: Help for Abused Men

4) An Abuse, Rape, and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection

A.A.R.D.V.A.R.C

5) Men Web: Battered Men

Help for Battered Men

6) Stop Abuse for Everyone (SAFE)

How to Find Help

7) Haven Domestic Violence Shelter

Get Help Now

- United Kingdom:

8) Mankind Initiative

Help for Victims

For Professionals

Survivors’ Stories

9) Respect – Men and Women Working Together to End Domestic Violence

Male Victims

10) Domestic Abuse Stops Here (DASH)

The Dash Charity

- Australia:

11) One in Three

Services and Resources

- Scotland:

12) Abused Men in Scotland (AMIS)

Helpline